His bed was empty.
Impossible, she thought.
And then she saw him: motionless on the floor, a dark stain spreading underneath his body. A stain that she recognized instantly.
Oh my God, the terrorists found him!
This first irrational thought was immediately followed by a more trained response. She assessed the situation in the few moments it took her to cross the room. She hit the button on the intercom system, identified herself and requested help.
She dropped to her knees next to Aaron. She spoke as she ran her hands across the back of his neck. “Aaron! Can you hear me?” As soon as she was certain he had no neck or spinal injury, she shook him gently. “Aaron, it’s Holly. Talk to me, Aaron.”
His arms snapped up, flailing for a moment before his good hand clamped onto her wrist—hard. His eyes were wide open, and in them she saw terror…confusion… pain…
They engaged in a macabre tug-of war as Holly stated repeatedly, “Aaron, it’s me—Holly. You’re okay. Take it easy.”
After what seemed like a long time, she saw recognition seep into his eyes. But then he shut them tight, and his body went limp. He released her wrists and dropped his hands over his face. “Go away,” he whispered, his chest heaving.
“I can’t do that, Aaron.”
“You shouldn’t see me,” he said. “Not like this.”
Unexpected tears stung her eyes.
“This isn’t who I am,” he rasped.
“You asked me to leave once already,” she said. “And I honored that request. Maybe I shouldn’t have. So please…”
She locked her eyes onto his, which were open again. Surely he could see that she was close to tears, but she didn’t care. “Don’t ask me to walk away again.”
She pressed her body into his back and tucked her knee into the back of his.
His breath caught and held—suspended as surely as he was—and he went perfectly still.
He felt her adjusting her stance—this can’t be comfortable for her either—which only served to increase the sense of intimacy. That sense was heightened even further when she placed one hand on his outside hip and the other on his thigh. “Try to keep your thigh glued to mine,” she said.
He nodded, not trusting his voice. He concentrated on evening out his breathing so it didn’t give him away.
The treadmill started slowly, and Holly’s hand moved to grip the bar next to Aaron’s. She said little as they picked up the speed; Lonnie, on the other hand, was all but barking orders: “Your thigh! Keep it tight! Against Holly’s! Tighter!”
After several minutes of this drill sergeant routine, Aaron pulled up abruptly.
As Lonnie and Kara stared at him, Aaron drew himself up tall. “Lonnie, I’m a lot more used to giving orders than taking them,” he said. “I realize it’s your job to get me moving, and I appreciate that. But we need to find a better tack than you barking at me.”
In Holly he sensed what felt suspiciously like a stifled chuckle. After a few beats of silence, Lonnie said, “I’ve got an idea.”
He took a roll of medical tape from his jacket pocket. In one swift movement, he had wrapped it around Aaron and Holly’s legs several times.
He felt a familiar ache in his legs and a not-so-familiar one in his temples. He touched the bandage on his face. Memory returned in a rush—the bar, the fight, calling Holly…
He was in Holly’s home. Holly’s room. Holly’s bed. And she was in the shower.
And…Christ!…she must have removed his prosthesis.
Gingerly he rolled over; the clock read 7:42.
He could smell her in the sheets…had she slept here, in the bed with him? He couldn’t move, didn’t want to move from the bed.
The door to the bathroom opened and she was there, wearing only a bathrobe. He lay still and watched her cross the room, marveling at how she could look better now than she had twelve years ago.
“You awake?” she said.
“Are you hung over?” She opened the drapes but left the blinds closed.
“I thought you might like some coffee.”
“I’d like that very much.”
“I’ll go start it,” she said. “Nicholas will be up any minute. He mustn’t find you here, in my room.” It was not said unkindly, but it was a reminder that she had shared this bed with another man.
“If you want to shower, there’s extra towels in the bathroom closet,” she said. “And some clothes…they’re Todd’s but I think they’ll fit you.”
He could take a hint, he decided. A hot shower would feel good. With some effort he roused himself, his body protesting vehemently.
I must find my pain pills.
Once she finally got to talking about the rape, it was as if a floodgate had come unhinged. The words tumbled out almost faster than he could grasp their import. It was as if she needed to purge herself of every word, every memory.
And those memories…the awful details…even the parts she didn’t share, he could imagine. Oh, yes, he could…
He willed himself to breathe evenly as his own memories came rushing at him.
And then came the anger. The anger he’d kept carefully checked during the time with Cheryl. Just as it had before, it washed over him with the force of an ocean wave.
When would it stop? Was the peace he’d found only fleeting?
He felt Holly’s hand on his leg and realized that it was shaking of its own accord—as if it, too, had picked up on the nervous energy that suddenly flowed through him.
And—dear God—what if something like that were to happen to Holly?
She lifted herself then, as if she sensed his thoughts, and her mouth came down on his, hot and wet and urgent.
He was ready for it, and he took her body in his hands, and he pressed himself against her flesh and he reached between her legs.
Their lovemaking was fast and frantic—as if they needed to be reminded that sex was a good and beautiful thing.
When it was over, the anger had been purged and they lay quietly.
“Do you think it was a mistake?” he finally said.
“You mean taking on Cheryl’s issues when you’re still working through your own?”